It’s just a two-hour flight, and yes, looking down at my watch, we’ve only been in the air thirty minutes, but I swear it’s been longer. Much longer.
Maybe it’s my anxiety that has seemingly caused time to freeze. I haven’t seen Barry’s parents since our disaster of a wedding five years ago, when his mother nearly strangled me while putting on my “something borrowed” string of pearls and demanded I only give her grandsons, followed by the threat, “or else.” And at the reception, his father further emphasized that I had one purpose and one purpose only. Procreation. Only sons, as if I’m bearing the heir to a medieval empire and not a chain of cheap motels that’s one more bed bug outbreak from bankruptcy.
But did Barry believe me our wedding night, when we were alone in our honeymoon suite, when we should’ve been doing anything other than arguing about his overbearing parents? No. It was the beginning and end of our marriage.
And now we’re supposed to spend two weeks with them, Christmas and New Year’s, and fake it like we’re a happy couple. And I know I’ll be relentlessly asked, “Where are my grandsons?” Well, it’s kind of hard to get pregnant when your son doesn’t touch me. But of course I’ll be blamed for that too—if I hadn’t accepted that fancy professorship in Richmond, taken him away from his family, made him eternally resentful of me.
I wish we weren’t going. I wish this plane didn’t exist. I wish we never married, that we were still MFA candidates writing love poems to each other back and forth between classes.
But no, we’re here, on this godforsaken plane headed to the Christmas holiday from hell, and as the fifth episode of You starts on the screen on the back of the seat in front of me, I know for a fact it’s been longer than two hours.
“Will we be landing soon?” I ask Barry, who sits in the aisle seat.
He gives me this befuddled look. “Are you serious?”
“We just took off.”
“No, no.” I turn and lift the shade to glance out the window, where I see nothing but clouds. No sky, no buildings below, only clouds. Clouds all around.
“We didn’t just take off. We’ve been on this flight at least five hours now.”
“Nell.” He touches my forehead with the back of his hand. “Are you feeling alright?” It’s the first time he’s ever shown any type of concern for me since before our wedding.
“I’m fine. I just don’t understand why—”
“Look, I know you’re not the biggest fan of my folks. But I told them to go easy on you, okay?”
“No baby stuff. No work stuff. No fighting. Let’s just do Christmas, okay?”
“Fake it till we make it?”
“Precisely.” He kisses my forehead.
I don’t know what’s more confusing. His sudden show of affection, or the fact that he thinks we just took off. Either way, I feel suffocated, and the last place I should be is in a barely three-foot wide airplane bathroom, but that’s where I go. I climb over his knees, side-shuffle down the narrow aisle, squeeze into the bathroom, and slam the folding door behind me.
I lean over the sink, turn on the faucet, and splash my face several times. I look at my reflection in the mirror, count the years lost in crow’s feet around my eyes. Suddenly the floor drops from under me, my knees buckle, and all around me the room shakes.
Could this flight get any worse?
I try to pull myself to my feet, but each time, the plane violently jerks and pushes me back down to the floor. Over the intercom, the bell chimes, indicating that everyone should put on their seatbelts.
How do you do that in a bathroom?
As much as I don’t want to, I grab onto the toilet, praying no one has recently shat in it, yank myself up, and sit down, holding onto the sides of the commode for dear life as the entire plane vibrates throughout my body. I breathe in through my noise audibly, barely getting enough air, but I refuse to open my mouth, afraid something could come out. Thankfully I didn’t eat while in the airport, but the way my stomach flips and twists in knots, anything could come out—from either end—and cover the walls of this lavatory.
Just as suddenly, the quaking stops. Cautiously, I release my hold of the toilet. I rise to my feet on spaghetti legs. The intercom chimes again, followed by our pilot’s muffled voice—his microphone obviously too close to his mouth.
“Uh…we had a brief wave of turbulence there…er…hopefully everyone’s alright. No one threw up their lunch, aha.” There’s static, a whistling echo, and then he comes back. “Uh, we’ll be beginning our descent into Hartsfield-Jackson shortly…er… current weather is fifty-two degrees, sunny, clear skies, zero chance of precipitation, beautiful day, huh?… We, er, hope you enjoyed your flight. We ask that you lift your tray tables, keep your seatbelts buckled until we touch down and come to a complete stop at the gate…we’ll be landing in about…er…twenty minutes. Welcome to Atlanta, and happy holidays!”
The microphone clicks as he signs off. I exhale a sigh of relief. The first hurdle is over. If Barry was being honest, maybe this will be my only hurdle. I check my wristwatch, and the time has jumped forty-five minutes. Have I been in the bathroom this long? Did the turbulence last nearly an hour? I massage my temples with both hands. I give up trying to understand the timeline of this flight. I just want to be safe on the ground. I know his parents promised to meet us at the airport. I just may be happy to see them, rush into my mother-in-law’s arms with a bear hug. Wouldn’t that surprise everyone?
I take another deep breath, fold back the door, and exit the tiny prison.
When I turn the corner all of the air is sucked from my lungs. I feel weightless, my stomach doing backflips again, the shaking beginning to return, because when I look into the cabin that I left God only knows how long ago for my husband’s face, he, the head stewardess and the rest of the crew, and all 188 passengers on this full flight are nowhere to be found.